The Two C’s of Cycling

A constant issue and challenge in Portland is improving roadway conditions to make bicycling safer. I believe experienced — and even moderately skilled cyclists — could, through our own behaviors and over time, dramatically improve the traffic safety of city streets. We can do this, in part, by changing motorist’s and cyclist’s expectations of how cyclists behave on the streets, and how we should be treated. As individuals, we can help accomplish this by riding with Courtesy and Confidence, as outlined below. The goals of purposefully riding courteously and confidently is to win allies and educate road users.

My basic rules for riding courteously and confidently are:

Courtesy
1. Always yield to pedestrians.
2. Ring a bell when approaching to pass either another cyclist or a pedestrian.
3. Be pleasant to others (corollary: Don’t behave like a confrontational, righteous jerk).
4. Never run a red light.

Confidence
1. Know and follow traffic laws, as they are your ally.
2. Take the lane when conditions merit.
3. Don’t rush.
4. Come to a complete and legal stop at stop signs whenever anybody else is present at the intersection.

The intent of riding with courtesy is to win allies, or at least not alienate more motorists and pedestrians. People walking are often startled — even frightened by cyclists behaving in a manner that appears reckless. A cyclist challenging a pedestrian for space on a shared path, riding aggressively on a sidewalk, or simply passing a pedestrian without an audible warning (“on your left” just doesn’t cut it — you need a bell) is frightening to many pedestrians. Anger develops from fright; every time this type of interaction plays out, one more person has one more reason to not want to promote increased bicycling in Portland. The same is true for rude our illegal interactions with motorists. Performing a risky maneuver on the street, and then responding to a honked horn with the universal salute is not a way to win support from people in cars. From my professional experience, I can assure you that such interactions create lasting negative impressions that make people less likely to support increased funding for expanding bicycling in Portland. Similarly, running red lights simply angers people who believe everybody should play by the rules — it’s like a slap in the face for many. Ironically, running reds rarely gains cyclists any significant time advantage over cyclists who stop for them.

The intent of riding with confidence is to educate road users by creating for them an expectation of appropriate and safe behavior. Knowing the law helps cyclists to ride confidently. State traffic law allows cyclists to not ride far to the right of a street when the travel lane is too narrow for safe side-by-side travel by a motor vehicle and a bicycle (ORS 814.430.c). One can argue that any travel lane narrower than 14′ is too narrow for such side-by-side travel, and very few lanes in Portland are that wide. Only when there is one lane in the direction of travel does a cyclist (“slow moving vehicle”) have to pull over for a faster motorist (“overtaking vehicle”). If there is more than one lane in the direction of travel, then a cyclist does not need to pull over at all (ORS 811.425). Riding in this manner sets an expectation that motorists cannot pass when conditions are not safe to do so, that indeed they will often have to drive slower in the presence of a cyclist. Importantly, when riding like this, or at any time, there is no requirement to ride fast. Many cannot ride fast. Motorists need to understand and expect this. [As do cyclists — fast and aggressive riders on some well-used Portland paths are creating unsafe and unpleasant conditions for other cyclists, not to mention pedestrians.] Such behaviors can be a powerful tool for riding safely and educating all road users; knowing the law and how it supports this is crucial.

Similarly, a cyclist coming to a complete and legal stop at a stop sign when any other road user is present in the intersection can have a powerful educational effect, especially when the cyclist is being followed by an automobile. Most people sorely need to be taught how to come to a legal stop. Since cars are so potentially injurious to others it is especially important that motorists stop. A cyclist coming to a complete stop both encourages and requires that motorists also come to a complete stop.

These are simple ideas and actions, but creating both positive impressions and consistent expectations can be transformative if they occur widely and frequently. Individual cyclists who behave well, legally, and confidently have the potential to educate a wide swath of Portland’s citizens as to what is expected and appropriate behavior when driving and bicycling.

I’d like to more fully flesh out these ideas and hear if there’s any agreement that they’re worth pursuing.

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